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Forging a Path to Financial Wellness

Now that I know it’s out there, I can’t stop seeing and hearing about the Financial Independence, Retire Early (FIRE) movement. According to Wikipedia, the FIRE financial movement has been around since the 2010s, and millennials have especially latched onto the idea. So where was I when everybody else was talking about it years ago? I was adulting away, a clueless millennial that could have learned a thing or two about not “needing” to upgrade to the big house that took us away from our lovely little first-house mortgage of just $620 per month. Now that my husband and I could be one of the last two people to jump on the FIRE bandwagon, our feet are dragging and I’m not sure we’ll ever fully commit to the idea.

As I understand it, the concept behind FIRE is to save and invest aggressively, while lowering your monthly expenses, to the point that you can retire much earlier than the 65-ish years of age expected here in the U.S. All of these ideas sound exactly like a frugal financial strategy I could get behind, at least, in theory. Always the budget-minded person, I recall making little lists of all the purchases I was giving up in order to save for a plane ticket to visit Kyle in California. Even a simple trip to WalMart once paralyzed me with indecision over whether a $10 purchase would be worth it in the long-term (thank you to my roommate Leslie for just buying that blue bath towel for me, I still have it and love it!). So if I’m built to scrimp, save, and plan for the future, why can’t I overcome my fears and dive into the FIRE movement? Honestly, I can’t even fathom working full time all the way until I’m 65 years old. And with technology progressing, I’m not fully sure I’ll even be relevant in the workplace almost 30 years from now, yikes!

Well, maybe I’m already living FIRE to a certain extent? Around 2017, all the stressors and events in my life made my brain start screaming at me: “simplify!” My husband and I existed happily in the tiniest of tiny cabins on a cruise for vacation, I saw my friend living comfortably in a 1000-square foot attached home, the extensive landscaping at our house wore me down, and our budget revealed that we were spending $500/month fixing roofs and replacing windows or stopping leaks or whatever on an old home that was entirely too big for us and didn’t make us happy. Isn’t it it so stereotypically the American dream to just start out renting whatever you can, then buying a cute little starter home, then finally buying that big home you’ve always ‘deserved?’ Thankfully we’re out of that mindset now and have whittled our obligations and expenses and stuff down to a more manageable amount these days.

Too bad we’re not in that $620-monthly house anymore though, FIRE would be so easy! Lowering our monthly expenses to save massive amounts of money for the future would be a breeze with such a tiny house payment. With the FIRE concept, you can drastically reduce your monthly expenses by paying off debt, opting for super-affordable meals, forgoing restaurants, and living as austere of a life as you’re comfortable with. Could I do that?? It depends.

I must admit it would feel so freeing to pay off student loans, car loans, a home improvement loan, and a mortgage. Our expenses would be ultra-low! But without being willing to change our housing and car situation right now, there aren’t a lot of big expenses we could currently give up. To really save significant amounts of money (like enough to retire 10 years from now) we’d have to cut a big chunk of fun spending out of our budget. Giving up all the restaurant trips, date nights out, Airbnb rentals, and touristy Vegas excursions, might just make us budget masters/gurus. I already ditched bunches of subscriptions like Sirius, Kindle Unlimited, and live television. At the same time, do I really want to skip out on some of the little luxuries I’ve come to know and love? I’m all for exploring and making our own (free) fun, but sometimes I just need to keep restaurants and travel in my life, you know?

Dang, I know it takes a lot of hard work and dedication to reach long-term goals, but for my own mental health I can’t do a full FIRE lifestyle change. Retiring early sounds like a blast, but not at the expense of giving up the next 10 years of my life to work my butt off and stressing to save something like 50% of our income. I’ll pass on that one, thank you. Alternately, there are some FIRE variations where I might find that we fit in. In the Fat FIRE strategy, I could keep my traditional suburban American lifestyle and simply save more than the average citizen. Conversely, the stringent Lean FIRE would require me and my husband to be super minimalists with a restricted lifestyle that leads to major financial gains. Finally, Barista FIRE and Coast FIRE would let us continue to work part-time to help cover living expenses and protect our retirement savings. BINGO! Let’s pursue this working part-time idea…

Well, I already do work part-time, and we’re prepping for my husband to join me. As a school-based contract occupational therapist, I currently work part-time hours and only during the traditional school year. I have wonderful fantasies of my husband giving up his full-time hours to travel and/or exercise with me during summers and school breaks. Admittedly, I do tend to get bored working part-time hours, but that is what works best whenever we have foster kids to care for in our home. Given the choice between stressing and saving and working crazy hard to retire in 10 years, versus just stretching this out to work part-time for however long while still getting to have loads of fun along the way, I choose less stress any day. Now we’re just plugging away, saving or investing or paying things off slowly until we can afford to both work just seasonally or part-time.

So that’s where we’re at. Unable to commit to 10 years of torture where I work non-stop to pay off debt and live like a cheapskate, a traditional or Lean FIRE strategy just isn’t going to work for us. Boy did we already work super hard to downsize, simplify, budget, and build careers that pay us a good living wage. We moved from Indiana to Las Vegas so we could start enjoying our lives as if we were retired already; we couldn’t stand to be those people that always want to leave the snow for the beach or the desert but have to wait 20 or more years to go actually do it. We made a conscious choice to live the life we want right now!

It may not be a popular opinion, but I believe I need to never lose sight of what’s best for me. After all, I can’t help others if I don’t take care of me first. Keeping my body healthy, taking care of my mental health, and planning for the future all need to stay in balance. I’ll keep saving for future-Brittany’s needs, but I don’t think she’d appreciate it if I stopped living the life current-Brittany worked so hard to establish. Financial Independence, Retire Early (FIRE) might always be my wishful-thinking goal, but for now it’s not fully for me and we’ll just keep plugging away with the jobs, volunteering, restaurants, trips, and other activities we’ve come to love. I mean, I’ll also keep saving for retirement like it’s my job, but gosh I don’t plan to lose sight of the here-and-now either.

Some FIRE resources:

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